In a survival situation, simple snares can be used to catch everything from mice to rabbits to deer for food. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen as easily or as often as Hollywood might have us believe, not even under the best circumstances with the most skilled survivalist.
First, the snares must be properly constructed. Second, they must be correctly placed. Third, an animal must come along and stick its head in the snare loop, tightening it as it moves. At the same time, nothing about the snare location, presence or smell can give the animal warning. Done properly, your success ratio might be as high as 10 to 1; ten snares set will yield one success. But this will happen only if you've taken time to learn proper methods for rigging and placing snares.
A snare is simply a noose that tightens over an animal's body as it tries to go through it. Wire snares are best for small animals and can be made from light wire carried in your survival kit or scavenged from your vehicle. If wire is unavailable, you can improvise with fishing line, twine, shoelaces, strips of leather or cloth, or even rope or heavy cable if deer or other large animals inhabit the area.
Regardless of the type of snare you're making, you must begin by making a noose. When using wire or other stiff material, bend the tip over and twist it several times to form an eye. Then run the other end of the wire through it to form the noose. When using fishing line or other pliant materials, make a loop that's closed with a slip-knot.
The strategy is to suspend the noose so the animal's head, but not its shoulders, will pass through the loop as the animal moves along. Sticks can be positioned on either side to hold the loop open. As the animal's head passes through the snare, its shoulders push against the line, drawing the loop tighter as it moves forward. The animal will lunge as the noose tightens, trying to get free. If it does not escape during its struggles, it usually will die from strangulation or a broken neck.
Snares can be very elaborate, but simplicity is best, because success may require numerous sets. The simplest type is a trail set. The open noose is placed in a trail or run used by animals, and the anchor end is secured to a tree, bush, log or stake. Something heavy and awkward to drag -- a long branch, for instance -- may be used if a solid tie-off point is unavailable.
Rabbits often travel distinct, well-worn runways in dense cover, and trail sets placed in such locations are very effective for catching them. Secure the anchor end of the snare to an overhanging branch, and open the loop about 4 inches, keeping the bottom of the loop three or four inches above the ground. Set several snares about 10 yards apart along each runway.
In a survival situation a simple wire snare like this is best.
Deer also follow trails, so if you have a strong piece of material from which to make a snare -- some nylon rope or wire cable, for instance -- you may want to try for a large supply of meat. Find a recently used deer trail, then, in a narrowly confined spot (such as between two trees), position a noose three to four feet in diameter at your waist height. Be sure your slip knot slides easily. Then anchor the other end of the snare to a solid tree.
Another good place to set snares is at the entrance of den holes. Look for burrows of woodchucks and smaller ground squirrels, the stream-bank holes of beavers and muskrats, and holes at the base of hollow trees that might be used by raccoons, squirrels, rabbits or other small animals. Hollow logs may be used by many animals. Attach the snare to a solid anchor -- a stake driven near the entrance with a rock, if necessary. And be sure the snare noose is smaller than the entrance hole. Any animal moving in or out of the den is likely to be caught.
Look, too, for logs that have fallen across shallow creeks. Animals like raccoons often cross a creek over a log rather than getting in the water. Snares placed at each end of the log to catch animals as they start across often prove effective.
If squirrels are abundant, consider making a pole snare. Given a choice, squirrels would much rather go up a slope than climb directly up a tree. To take advantage of this behavior, a long pole is leaned against a tree used by squirrels. Then several wire nooses, about 2-1/2 inches in diameter, are anchored to the pole, with each loop curving up and around so it lays on top of the pole. When a squirrel is caught, it tends to flip off the pole and strangles. As one is caught, others may come to investigate, with similar results.
Prejudices against unusual foods usually disappear in a true survival situation. An armadillo would be a welcome meal.
If you are in an area inhabited by coyotes, bears or other opportunistic feeders, a snare that lifts your game out of reach above the ground is advisable. These are usually called twitch-up snares, spring snares or trigger snares. Using the same noose, twitch-ups add a device that triggers a bent sapling or a rock weighting the snare line. Serious injuries can occur if one doesn't exercise the utmost caution when rigging this type of trap.
It's a good idea to include several yards of wire or fishing line in your survival kit for use in improvising snares. My own kit contains a spool of green, 20-gauge snare wire purchased at an army surplus store for less than $2. The spool, about the size of two ordinary spools of thread, contains enough wire to rig several dozen snares.
You may also want to consider purchasing commercially made snares. These are made of strong, braided steel wire and have a locking mechanism that secures the animal once it is snared. It is virtually impossible for the animal to get out by jumping or twisting.
Finally, it is important to remember the snaring techniques discussed here are illegal in most areas, although all law enforcement agencies recognize the right to harvest food in a survival situation. Special permits may or may not be available from your state wildlife agency for survival training. Check with the proper authority before practicing.